Active World Journeys travel blog: Spain’s Hidden Gem Beaches, Exhilarating Hikes, and Best Food and Drink Tours.
I really should not be telling you about one of the best kept secret vacation spots in the world. I want it for myself, and I especially don’t want the locals to get upset with me for blogging about it to the world at large. But oh well, here it goes. Recently, I had a fantastic three-day FAM (familiarization trip) to Almeria, Spain in the Andalucia region thanks to Andalucia.org in conjunction with a TBEX Travel Creatives Conference that I was attending. And I gotta tell you, my eyes were extra wide the entire time taking in this fascinating and beautiful area of southern Spain.
First up, the desert area of Almeria called Tabernas (which is the largest continental desert in Europe) has its own mini-Hollywood where a lot of famous movies have been filmed. In particular, it’s known for those spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and 1970s that made Clint Eastwood famous and which were directed by Sergio Leone such as “Fistful of Dollars” and “The Good The Bad and the Ugly.” Why were they called spaghetti westerns if they were filmed in Spain? Because most of the directors and production crews were from Italy. Some more recent movies shot there include “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and Ridley Scott’s “Exodus.”
But in terms of beaches and beautiful nature, Almeria is world class. We went to Cabo de Gato Natural Area and it was just beyond stunning. Secluded and pristine, the beaches here are among the finest you’ll find anywhere in the world, without being too commercial and touristy. In fact, if you’re going to spend the day at the beach here, bring a cooler with your own food and drink because there are no restaurants nearby, hotels, or concessions within the park. It is very secluded; in fact, think of yourself as being Robinson Crusoe for the day in your own little paradise. The nearby town of San Jose (about a 20-minute drive away) is where you can stay overnight in a hotel and there are plenty of good restaurants and shops. There are buses from there that can take you into the park if you don’t have a rental car. Parking is limited in the park anyway, so unless you get there early it might be better just to take the bus.
As an extra bonus, we also got to do some buggy riding through the Almeria desert area with Desert Buggy and it was tons of fun. Then, on our last evening, we ended our sightseeing tour of the city of Almeria atop the ancient Alcazar with magnificent views. There’s just something extra special about Almeria, Spain, you really need to go there and experience it all for yourself.
One of the funnest hikes I’ve ever done is also in the Andalucia region El Chorro, near Ardales and is called Caminito Del Rey or “The Kings Way.” In 1921, when King Alfonso XIII opened the Gualdalhorce water reservoir, it was christened. Today, after major safety repairs you just slap on a helmet and walk (not really hike) the 5-mile path over many parts where the wooden walkway seems to barely cling on to the side of cliffs overlooking steep canyons with amazing vistas. It’s not really as dangerous as it looks, but I guess if one of the wooden walkways gave way and malfunctioned… well let’s just say you wouldn’t be king for a day. Have a look…would you do it?
Also nearby is the beautiful mountain town of Ronda which sits high above a deep gorge. There are three bridges there that represent three time periods: a roman bridge, an Islamic era bridge, and the new bridge (which is more than 200 years old). We did a wonderful walking tour of the city and then went to a nearby winery for wine tasting and food. It was amazing on every level!
Now, being relatively close to Granada (a two-hour drive) and never having visited there myself, after the FAM trips and TBEX conference that I was attending was over, I headed up to Granada to see the iconic Alhambra, a palace and fortress for the Moorish monarchs and a beautiful example of Islamic architecture. It’s now the most visited tourist attraction in Spain. And for good reason. The grounds are beautiful and the interior is a feast for the eyes. Make sure to have advance tickets before you visit and bring your physical passport as they will check it. There are guided tours that I recommend which give you so much more rich insight into the development and daily life at the Alhambra.
Afterwards, one of the best ways to get to know a city is through its food, so I did a walking food tour of Granada with Spain Food Sherpas and learned so much about local customs and traditions while sampling really tasty foods and drinks in the area. Did you know that it’s only female pigs that are used for that thin delicious jamón (ham) in Spain? Did you know that most food historians agree that Spaniards introduced some version of sangria to the Americas in the early 1800s. Official accounts place the US introduction to sangria at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, when the Pavilion of Spain served it to visitors from the Taberna Madrid kiosk. But when the Americans started traveling to Spain asking for a Sangria most bartenders didn’t really know what they were talking about, so they just improvised with whatever ingredients they had on hand locally. These are just a couple of the numerous interesting factoids and tidbits you’ll discover on the Granada Walking food tour with them. You can contact them firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell them I sent you!
Spain is truly a top destination for European travel and exploring the Andalucia region as well as Granada was special for me. Being the summer of 2022 and the first time in a couple of years that people were back to traveling after the pandemic scare, it was nice to see tour guides back in action and travelers learning about history and culture, sightseeing, and tasting the local food and drink. It sounds cliché, but travel opens our mind and heart and makes us better people.
Jack Witt, MS, CPT
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